Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Ra Ra Ras(Putin), Russia's Greatest Love Machine, It Was a Shame About V-A-R... My World Cup 2018

So, after 64 games, 169 goals (two down on 2014) and 350 opinions cut off in their prime by Alan Shearer, France won the World Cup for the first time since Nineteen Ninety... sorry Guy, what year did you say it was again? Was it something to do with that Prince song, you mentioned? Parc Des Prince? No? Okay, never mind.

Who cares about the facts anyway? Facts are always waiting to happen. No, it's the people who matter. That's what everyone always says in their leaving speech - it's not the work I'll miss, it's the people, even if the people in question are available on a phone, or social media, and often in their own house. You don't have to miss them, but you're sticking to your word. This job is no more, the people are no more, and that's the end of it. I've told you I'll miss you, but please don't try to contact me.

The people of World Cup 2018 - the commentators, the players, the pundits - have been ever present in my living room, or other rooms where I have been holding a device, for one long hot summer, and I've stuck with them loyally, due to a lack of alternatives. But now it's time to go, and it's fair to say that I wouldn't want most of those people inviting themselves in for a drink. The last thing I want 'tap, tapping on the window pane is bloody Clive Tyldesley.

As you've guessed, all this is leading up to my review of the tournament, which is by no means comprehensive. Where once I was a boy concerned only by a supply of fizzy drink, chocolate bars and a tv space to watch every single second of the World Cup, I now consider it a triumph to get to the 20th minute of a match without someone asking me to wipe their bottom. In short, I was weeping when I watched this, so forgive me if I go astray...

THE WINNERS...FRANCE  

Like that other time the French won the World Cup, whenever that was...{is Guy there yet? No? Last seen in a sarong? Okay, let him get through it}. Didier Deschamps was at the centre of it. Then captain, now manager, he is only the third man to win the trophy as both a player and manager. More astonishingly, Deschamps is only 49. He seemed to be touching 40 when he lifted it the first time. Also in 199..Right, let's go for it, we don't need Guy..8 (yes?), France played with a centre forward in the Final who registered no goals in the tournament, indeed this summer, Olly Giroud didn't manage even one shot on target in the whole tournament. This is in stark contrast to his 1998 equivalent, Stephane Guivarc'h, who fluffed three glorious chances in the Final alone. Luckily, the No.9 at the other end, in the Brazil shirt, wasn't much cop, either.

COUNTDOWNS TO KICK OFF    

Back by popular demand, this cringeworthy introduction to matches cast a shadow over Euro 2012, but returned to the international game this summer to full patronising effect.

Countdowns and football matches go together less like love and marriage, more like Mick Fleetwood and Samantha Fox hosting the Brits in 1988. Totally embarrassing. I'm all for countdowns to space shuttles going off , or firework displays, but while these events support instant gratification for neutral observers in the name of enjoyment, Football does not. "Five. Four. Three. Two. One"...and the forward passes the ball back to the midfielder, who knocks it wide to the full back, who gives the keeper a touch, who knocks it back to the full back, who rolls it across the defence... at which point the hitherto hyperactive crowd slowly sits back in their seats, contemplating the next big thrill, which could be a selfie, a video of a throw in or a 'Mexican wave'.

When I were a lad, five year old sitting in the East Stand Upper, surrounded by thick cigarette smoke, pre-match entertainment consisted of a brass band, and to be honest, I didn't even need that. I had the trembling limbs of anxiety for company, and the sound of my knees knocking whenever the opposition entered my team's half. Countdowns are for fun times, not football. The fear and the nerves must always take precedence, or what's the point?

When Millwall and Crystal Palace, or Arsenal and Spurs, or Man Utd v Liverpool, or Lazio v Roma, or AFC Wimbledon v MK Dons  unite together in counting down to kick off, the game is officially dead!  

ENGLAND  

The truth. Not Kelvin McKenzie's truth but an even less credible truth. Mine. England reached the World Cup semi final, and this is - genuinely worthy of well done; you can only beat what's in front of you, and they didn't slip up against all the teams they should have beaten. Before the tournament, there was little expectation and big questions over the quality of the squad, although the first eleven  did feature players from Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham. The goalkeeper situation seemed worrying (for England fans) but Everton's Jordan Pickford defied my doubts over his ability to catch. For the members of the public whose focus on England's flaws distracted them from the poorness of two of the other teams in their group, and also those they might meet in the knockout rounds if a couple of things went their way, the likelihood was that former sacked Middlesbrough manager, Gareth Southgate, would be leading his team home for the business end of Love Island.

A helpful defeat to Belgium in an under-strength final group game proved anything but a meaningless stroll through the motions. Forgotten ex Manchester United winger Adnan Januzai scored a goal to remember, not least because it incurred the wrath of his own nation by leading them through the door of a deadly Hunger Games style route to the Final, forcing them to dodge multiplying killer mutations and assassins, while England had their door opened to them by a chauffeur driver, who welcomed them into a limo lined with champagne, caviar and access to a plush video game area containing the latest atrocity-packed productions on the market, from where Jesse Lingard could help send in those evil incarnations onto Belgium.

England should have beaten Croatia with the chances they had in the first half. Yes, you can only score one goal at a time, but the energy was with them. 45 minutes away from a first Final since 66, they then reverted to type, were pegged back and ultimately beaten. But as a BBC reporter in Russia put it, "England's performances have exceeded expectations" and that was only after they'd played Tunisia and Panama.                  

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